Game Preview: Rangers get first look at Eichel, Sabres

In what’s the final game before the All-Star break for them, the Rangers host the Sabres with a special start time of 7:30 P.M. at MSG.

It’ll be their first look at Jack Eichel. Buffalo’s 2015 second overall pick who is one of the league’s premier rookies. So far, he has 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points which places him fourth in rookie scoring. Artemi Panarin is first with 46 (17-29-46) with Dylan Larkin (15-17-32) and Max Domi (13-19-32) tied for second. Eichel paces all first-year players in shots with 145. He also leads all freshmen with five power play goals and 16 power play points.

Unlike the Rangers, the Sabres have done some damage on the man-advantage. They rank seventh connecting at 20.7 percent. On the road, they’re sixth going 23.4 percent. Considering that they’ve struggled on the penalty kill ranking 22nd (79.3 percent), the Blueshirts may want to stay out of the penalty box. At least they kill penalties better at home ranking fifth at 87.3 percent.

Then again, they’ve been a much better home team bringing in a 17-5-2 record. They’re 4-0-1 in their last five with the one loss coming against the Caps in overtime on 1/9. A game they came back in and led before Nicklas Backstrom tied it in the closing second and Alex Ovechkin won it in 3-on-3.

For the Rangers, it’s about responding to a really bad loss. In a lackluster effort, they were shutout 3-0 by the Senators on Sunday. A defeat that didn’t sit well with coach Alain Vigneault, who ripped into them. He cut his press conference short. Henrik Lundqvist also was critical indicating that he can’t speak for other players and how they prepare for each game. That’s about as upset as the star goalie gets. Ditto for the coach, who normally gives the press more quotes.

At this point, every game is crucial. The Rangers find themselves clinging onto second place a point up on the Islanders and two ahead of the Devils with the Pens lurking. Even the Hurricanes are hanging around. What it comes down to is the players delivering a more consistent effort. It’s inexcusable for this team to have not put together a real winning streak in over two months. They haven’t played well and have left themselves a lot of work following the break.

Rick Nash will miss his second straight game due to a bone bruise. He had an MRI earlier today and according to Vigneault, there was no break. So, he should be good to go when they return after the break. February is a big month featuring three games against the Devils, one against the Penguins, two against the Flyers. Plus tough home tests against Western powers Chicago and Los Angeles. And they’ll visit St. Louis and Dallas to conclude the month.

The forwards remain the same for tonight including Daniel Paille getting his third game on the fourth line. They struggled against Ottawa on for a goal against and weren’t effective 5-on-5. But also, Derick Brassard and Ryan McDonagh both had bad games. With this team, it’s more than one player or line when they lose. Only J.T. Miller has put in a consistent effort. Dylan McIlrath gets back in the lineup replacing Dan Boyle on defense. So, that means he’ll be teamed with Keith Yandle.

Ryan O’Reilly leads the Sabres in scoring with 40 points (17-23-40). In his first year with Buffalo after being acquired last summer with Jamie McGinn from Colorado for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and a 2015 second round pick (Jeremy Roy), the 24-year old O’Reilly has been as good as advertised. He paces Buffalo in goals (17), power play goals (7), power play points (24) and faceoff percentage (57.2). He needs 11 goals to match his career high in goals (28) and is 25 points away from a new career best.

Buffalo doesn’t have much in the way of scoring. However, Rasmus Ristolainen supplies offense from the blue line with 31 points (8-23-31). His 23 helpers are tied with O’Reilly for the team lead. He also has four PPG’s and 14 power play points. The 21-year old former 2013 first round pick is a dangerous rover with a lethal shot who must be accounted for.

Evander Kane is a physical force up front. After coming over from Winnipeg along with defenseman Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf last year  for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia and a 2015 first round pick (Jack Roslovic), he has 10 goals and eight assists with 32 penalty minutes in 38 games. His 107 hits pace the team. With the 24-year old Kane, it’s all about finding consistency and staying healthy. He has the physical tools to be a power forward once scoring 30 goals and 57 points in Winnipeg’s return (’11-12). Since, he’s been an enigma also making the wrong kind of news off the ice. That includes a sex offense investigation. At some point, Kane needs to grow up. What is it about the last name Kane and Buffalo? Hawks star Patrick Kane had a rape allegation dropped against him due to insufficient evidence.

Buffalo is still without rookie Sam Reinhart. The 2014 second overall pick has 12 goals. He remains out with an upper body injury.

For most of the season, the Sabres have been without Robin Lehner. He recently returned. In four starts, he’s 0-3-0 with a 2.34 goals-against-average and .934 save percentage. The former Sen hasn’t gotten much support. In a 3-0 loss to Detroit, he made 42 saves. There also was a last second 2-1 defeat at Colorado where Francois Beauchemin scored at 19:28.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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